A Great Man's House
Poem By Wislawa Szymborska
It was written in marble in golden letters:
here a great man lived and worked and died.
He laid the gravel for these paths personally.
This bench — do not touch — he chiseled by himself
out of stone.
And — careful, three steps — we're going inside.
He made it into the world at just the right time.
Everything that had to pass, passed in this house.
Not in a high rise,
not in square feet, furnished yet empty,
amidst unknown neighbors,
on some fifteenth floor,
where it's hard to drag school field trips.
In this room he pondered,
in this chamber he slept,
and over here he entertained guests.
Portraits, an armchair, a desk, a pipe, a globe, a flute,
a worn-out rug, a sun room.
From here he exchanged nods with his tailor and
who custom made for him.
This is not the same as photographs in boxes,
dried out pens in a plastic cup,
a store-bought wardrobe in a store-bought closet,
a window, from which you can see clouds better
That's not relevant here.
He still confided in his letters,
without thinking they would be opened on their
He still kept a detailed and honest diary,
without the fear that he would lose it during a
The passing of a comet worried him most.
The destruction of the world was only in the hands
He still managed not to die in the hospital,
behind a white screen, who knows which one.
There was still someone with him who remembered
his muttered words.
He partook of life
as if it were reusable:
he sent his books to be bound;
he wouldn't cross out the last names of the dead from
his address book.
And the trees he had planted in the garden behind
grew for him as Juglans regia
and Quercus rubra and Ulmus and Larix
and Fraxinus excelsior.
Translated, from the Polish, by Joanna Trzeciak